This past Saturday, a twenty-two year old man named Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting spree at a congressional event at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona. The attack on the “Congress on Your Corner” event, hosted by Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords, left six dead and eighteen wounded. Among the dead: Gabriel Zimmerman, Representative Gabrielle Giffords’ director of community outreach, federal Judge John M. Roll, 9 year old Christina Green and three retirees, all of whom were there for the opportunity to speak to their representative. Representative Giffords, shot in the head, remains in critical condition.
The news on Saturday was chaotic. Some who were reported dead, we know now have survived. Some who were initially reported as wounded have since passed away. One branch of the media was quick to point out a possible connection to Sarah Palin’s “Take Back the Twenty” campaign, which used bulls eye (or perhaps surveyor’s marks) to pinpoint twenty districts that supported the Healthcare initiative. (The graphic in question has since been removed from the SarahPAC website, although it remains highly findable.) The opposing media forces immediately lauded Giffords for her moderate stance within the Democratic Party, including her support of the second amendment. Those who watch Fox News, for whatever reason, were treated to Shepard Smith bumbling his way through breaking coverage sans teleprompter. (If you were looking for levity, comfort in a time of confusing tragedy, I sincerely hope you weren’t watching Shepard Smith. Bizarre slips included: “She’s [Representative Giffords] going to have a difficult day.”)
The attack on Representative Giffords marks a grim milestone. For the first time in United States history a political assassination attempt was made on a woman. One certainly hopes that it will be the last, but not unless we-as a system-make a change.
If anything, this should be a wake-up call that we ought to think carefully and critically about how our political system functions and how political rhetoric therein affects our society. I am nowhere near pointing fingers at Sarah Palin for this, but what if the Tea Party’s violent rhetoric did influence this mentally ill young man?
Some contributor on some cable news station made the comparison that violent rhetoric, like influenza, preys on the weak. Communicable diseases go after our elderly, our children and our immunodeficient. Does violent rhetoric prey on our mentally ill? If it does (and I do think it does), who or what do we hold responsible? Is it the person who employs the violent imagery? The one with the gun? The system that stigmatizes mental illness and makes it unnecessarily difficult to get treatment?
I don’t have the answers. Do you?